Day 103: In Which I Cannot Win

Thursday, March 15


Physics: Interference and diffraction. Started with the quiz, and then reviewed the questions with more explanation. I did some shadow demonstrations with a flashlight and my hand to show how the edges can be sharp or fuzzy depending on distances for diffraction. Then I drew a few different examples to introduce the wave-front representation and show different sized barriers or openings for diffraction. After a short discussion of interference that the students picked up way faster than I expected, we then combined the two ideas to talk about the two-slit experiment and then watch the Veritasium video on the topic. It’s a pretty good treatment of the situation. After that I showed them the actual real-life version with a laser and a two slit grating. The whole thing was a super quick and dirty treatment, but since we review tomorrow and have an exam on Monday there is literally no more time to delve any deeper, so I’m pleased with what we managed to complete in 40 minutes.

Honors Physics: Circuits! With real resistors! We switched from holiday lights to resistors and learned how to measure them and build circuits with them. Then I had them build and measure things until they had data to analyze. They discovered Ohm’s Law! Yay! Tomorrow we’ll start looking into series and parallel so they can discover those relationships. Circuit discovery is one of my favorite parts of anything I get to teach. There is so much frustration but also so much learning happening. I spend a lot of time helping the students troubleshoot, but they get really involved with the process.

AP Physics: Magnetism lab! I think it’s way more fun and valuable to just play with magnets and see what you can make happen, so I set out a bunch of stuff and let them at it. They do have to write down things they learned or discovered or noticed, so some synthesis of their experience is required, but there’s nothing wrong with a pretty chill day of discovery. Learning through playing and having experiences I can leverage later when we talk in more detail about different phenomena is awesome. One group decided they wanted to test my statement that dropping magnets weakens them, so they took one of my garbage magnets and played “not actually catch” with it in an effort to weaken it. I’m super on board with this.

At my previous school I had all the kids turn scissors into magnets by rubbing them with magnets and then demagnetize by hitting the scissors with a hammer. I need to do that again, because it’s way too much fun to create and then destroy magnets. Smacking things with hammers is also fun.

Many of the students enjoyed it and spent the time productively playing with magnets and testing things, especially the ones who asked for more open-ended labs and chances to just play with the materials. One complained that it was a complete waste of time because he’s played with magnets before and thus has nothing else left to discover. As if ANYONE has nothing else left to discover about ANY topic in physics! I told him that the goal with open-ended labs was to play and discover, to take what he already knows and push past that. Science is not about following instructions and constantly being told things that are true so you can repeat them later for credit. It’s about asking questions and seeing what happens if? I’m trying to train scientists, not what one of my teachers described as “dog in circus” who is trained to perform a routine on command. He then informed me that he and some other kids were speaking in Chinese things I “wouldn’t want to hear”. He said the time would have been better spent in a lecture because they could learn more and apologized if he offended me.

I am zero offended. I am exasperated that I was actively doing what was asked of me by the students in the class who enjoy open ended labs, and then badmouthed in a language I don’t understand by those students I had catered to for the previous three days of class. It feels like I literally cannot win no matter what I do. Also, I’ve tried to be super nice about letting kids talk in whatever language helps them understand during group activities, but that’s done now for those kids. I’m not about using a second language for clandestine unkindness.

I spoke more with the student who complained and mentioned that people had specifically asked for an open-ended lab, and he was shocked. He believed that he was expressing the opinion of the entire class, and I just wasn’t listening. Turns out that is not the case. I told him that I knew he had a preference for all lectures and labs with clear instructions. I was absolutely, 100% listening. Other students have other preferences, and so I am trying to give everyone something that they enjoy sometimes, but I cannot give everyone what they want all the time. He seemed to understand and said he would try to work on engaging with the activities not to his preference. That is literally all I am asking for.



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